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Interesting Facts About Autopsies II

An autopsy was responsible for shedding light on the details surrounding the death of infamous gangster Al Capone. He died because of many complications associated with a sexually transmitted disease. In this article, you will learn more about the ins and outs of autopsies, including habits and discoveries of early doctors.  

The gangster led a life filled with many ladies coming in and out of his life. Some say that he was treated for the disease in 1927, but it was never cured. During the last 18 months of his life, Capone was in a partially vegetative, demented state until he died on Jan 25, 1947 at his Miami home. He was 48 years old at the time of his death. There are some people that refuse to accept syphilis as the cause of death. On November 16, 1939, Capone was released from Alcatraz after serving a little over seven and a half years. He was already suffering from paresis derived from syphilis and it was clear that his health had deteriorated while he was in prison. The infection traveled to his brain and left him in a vegetative state for the majority of his days. He received treatment at a hospital in Baltimore for his brain before returning to his home in Florida. The venereal disease had already entered the third stage by then, and Capone experienced numerous system failures throughout his body. When the Dade County Medical Examiner wrote their report, they attributed his death to ‘numerous complications including renal, hepatic, and congestive heart failure due to end stage syphillitic complications’.

Italian physician Antonio Valsalva performed autopsies during the 17th century. Since he didn’t have the luxury of simple chemical tests on hand, Valsalva had the unsavory process of tasting bodily fluids in cadavers as a way to characterize more efficiently. One time, he tasted gangrenous pus ”“ making a note that it left the tongue tingling for the majority of the day.

Some doctors used any method they could to get their hands on cadavers, as seen in the case of Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare. In 1828, the two became partners in a scheme to kill 16 people in Scotland so they could collect cadaver bounties that a doctor offered. He paid without asking any questions as to where the bodies originated. After killing a handful of people, Hare finally testified against Burke, who was hunged in 1829. Ironically, Burke’s corpse was dissected in public with the skeletal remains being placed on display at the University of Edinburgh. Wallets were actually made from his skin were stolen during the autopsy and sold on the streets.

When it comes to performing autopsies, Karl Rokitansky (an Austrian pathology from the 19th century), who hailed from the University of Vienna, was a leader in the field. He has reportedly performed 30,000 autopsies and is believed to have supervised another 70,000. This meant that he averaged about two autopsies per day, every day of the week, for 45 years of his life.

When an autopsy is performed, the tools and instruments used during the procedure include a skull chisel, enterotome, rib cutters, surgeons needle, scalpel, bone saw, toothed forceps, and vibrating saw.